Friday, January 31, 2014

3 Reasons I Will Never Leave Italy

The title is probably an exaggeration. I most likely will live in the United States again. Statistically, very few expats live out their lives in a foreign country. Most, eventually, find their way back to the land of their birth.
So let me just say that these are the top three reasons that I can't imagine leaving Italy... today.
#1. Coffee. Coffee is not just a drink in is a work of art.
Starbucks may have 17,000 stores throughout the world, but Italy does not have a single one. A barista will make your espresso, simply called a caffe`, with the precision of a skilled craftsman. From the coffee beans, to the pre-heated machine, to the properly sized cup, to the exact strength and temperature of the caffe`, and milk, it will all be controlled by a professional. The "no foam, skinny latte, double shot of vanilla" order does not happen here. To drink an espresso, macchiato, or cappuccino in Italy, is to enjoy something just as it has been made for generations. The taste is exquisite....perfection. I cannot go back. And, it's the only place I have ever found that wants to drink coffee as I do, all day long.
#2. Emotion. There is just so much of it. 
My first week in Florence, I rounded a corner on a narrow side street and walked right into a melodrama. A man was crying out to a woman next to him that he was, "Frustrated. Heartbroken. Devastated." Arms raised, palms up, he wailed to her, (and the neighborhood), that he just "couldn't take it anymore." "Wow," I thought. What could she have possibly done that had him so distraught? It didn't take more than a couple of weeks of living in Italy to realize that was everyday, normal conversation. She'd probably forgotten to pick up his dry cleaning. Similar dramas can be heard from any open window, trattoria or sidewalk, on any given day. And while everything is of the utmost importance, nothing is private! Passionate, kissing couples are everywhere, while the rest of the traffic just walks around them. Life seems to be lived fully in the present, engaged and emotional. It's raw, real and refreshing. It makes me smile a little as I walk by. Good stuff here, happening just outside my door.
#3. La Bella Figura. There are rules here that simultaneously impress and frighten me. You may not know the rules exist the first time you visit Italy, but live here for a while and they become clear. This is an entire country of people who strive for "la bella figura", the art of making a good impression. These are the sometimes subtle, but always present, rituals of behavior that make this country unlike any other. As a foreigner, you may just notice how polished everyone seems to be. It's staggering. Constantly aware of aesthetic beauty, confident and manicured, they are a walking advertisement for the good life. But there are rules to be followed in creating the good impression that go beyond how one is dressed. And here's where it becomes a little tricky. You don't know the rules. You only begin to learn the rules after a certain number of withering looks. It might be from the server at the trattoria, fruttivendolo, or a full out scolding by an Italian Grandma in the market. Pretty soon, you catch on. (As a side note, these rules of behavior have been in place longer than the United States has been a country. So don't be asking why a certain rule exists. It just does.) As well mannered as you may be, no outsider is a match for those that were born and raised in the country of la bella figura. Many of the rules come from cleanliness and spreading germs. So please don't touch the produce at the market, unless you have placed on a disposable plastic glove, and if you do touch it, buy it. Don't share food, even pizza.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are rules on when to drink cappuccino, what sauce goes on which pasta, and what color to paint the shutters. I haven't even mentioned the language rules. There's an entirely separate vocabulary for those that must be spoken to in the formal, rather than informal, context. I am not complaining. Rather, I enjoy a society where everyone is making it a priority to be civil. But what about how they drive? And the dreadful condition of the sidewalks and public squares? Many neglect to pick up after their dogs or themselves. How is it that they continually butt in line or refuse to move over even an inch on the sidewalk? Therein lies the paradoxical life of la bella figura in Italy! I would miss the rules. I have worked so hard to learn them.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Do you know how to speak with your hands Italian Style?

Knowing some Italian makes any trip to Italy easier. But understanding Italian gestures might be even more important. Learn some with this cute video from La Repubblica... starring Dolce & Gabbana models.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

why do Italians love food so much?

Italian Food Traditions

Someone asked me yesterday, “why do Italians love food so much?”. Here is what I think. They love it because:

it is a matter of culture and identity…

In Italy “food” is more than just food. There are some people who say that in order to really appreciate an Italian recipe you should know everything about the region where the recipe comes from, meaning the landscape, the traditions, the way of life. If “culture” is the ensemble of the systems of meanings through which we make sense of what is around us, “food” here is one of the ways in which what is around us finds a way to express itself. In Italy, food is culture and you can find over 70.000 traditional recipes that are the perfect expression of a particular context. We could say that…
Italians love food so much because it is part of their roots, an essential companion of the beauty that surrounds them and one of the key elements that makes them… who they are.

 it is a matter of passion and pleasure…

I remember reading the results of a research once, a study that was carried out by an expert linguist. The researcher was trying to understand the difference between Americans and Italians when it comes to food. Looking at how typical Italian and American parents talk about food at dinner with their children, the scholar underlined that in the United States mothers and fathers tend to present dinner time to their kids saying things like “be a good girl/boy and you will have a reward… a wonderful dessert!” or “I know, you don’t like to eat, but be good and you’ll have some ice-cream later”. In Italy, however, parents talked about dinner with their children portraying it as a wonderful moment: “Guys, mummy cooked something delicious and special for us!” and “how delicious is dinner today, don’t you think?” were common expressions among the Italians. The conclusions of the piece, with which I perfectly agree, stated that…
 Italians think about food as something pleasurable, and therefore communicate their passion to their children. In Italy, people love food because it is definitively a matter of pleasure!

 it is a matter of simplicity and community…

Did you know that many of the Italian traditional recipes were born in the house of poor farmers who had to make the best of whatever they have in their kitchens? “You don’t waste nothing”, used to say my grandma. But because they didn’t have much, these pioneers had to keep their dishes simple. In doing so, more or less consciously, Italians have learned that the quality of the ingredients is way more important than the quantity. Cooking, for an Italian family, has always signaled the coming of the moment in which everyone can sit at the table and enjoy the simple pleasure of a warm meal. So..
For the Italians, then, food is always a reminder that life can be complicated and hard, sad and cold… but that happiness is just a matter of few, delicious ingredients.